Herbal Alternatives to Equine Sedatives

Looking for herbal alternatives to medical equine sedatives? Know the facts about herbal supplements before you administer them to your horse.
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Looking for herbal alternatives to medical equine sedatives? Know the facts about herbal supplements before you administer them to your horse.

In the April 2004 issue of Horse & Rider, we looked at the ins and outs of tranquilizing drugs and touched on the controversy surrounding their uses (and abuses).

You're convinced that medical sedatives aren't the answer for calming your horse, but you've wondered about those popular herbal supplements. After all, they're touted as natural and safe, and are even legal in competition, right? Wrong! Before you reach for that bucket of herbal powder on the shelf, consider the following:

  • Herbal preparations aren't FDA-approved, meaning they're not well-controlled. In many cases, we don't even know what's in them, or in what amounts. In fact, it's possible that an herbal supplement could contain well-known tranquilizing medications, such as acepromazine or detomidine. In one example, several prominent horsemen were cited by the USEF when the drug reserpine was identified in six different horses during recognized competition. This tranquilizing drug was believed to have come from an herbal supplement-despite manufacturer's claims and labeling on the product to the contrary.
  • Safety and efficacy of herbal preparations aren't well-established. Unlike approved medications, which undergo extensive safety and dosage testing before they hit the market, herbal preparations aren't submitted to the same rigorous evaluation. Your horse may be at greater risk of harm from the unknown side effects of an herbal product than from the well-documented side effects of an approved medication.
  • Use of calming herbs is clearly against the rules for both the USEF and the AQHA. The USEF defines as forbidden "any substance or drug that might affect the performance of a horse and/or pony." Similarly, the AQHA forbids "any stimulant, depressant, tranquilizer, or sedative which could affect the performance of a horse." Comparable rules exist for many other organizations.

H&R Contributing Editor Barb Crabbe, DVM, is an Oregon-based equine practitioner.